Brautigan > The Abortion
This node of the American Dust website provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Published in 1971, this was Brautigan's fourth published novel. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.
Publication information regarding Richard Brautigan's novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966.
First USA Edition
New York: Simon and Schuster
ISBN 0-671-20872-1; First printing 23 March 1971
5.5" x 8.25"; 226 pages
Issued simultaneously with both cloth and paper covers
Orange cloth-wrapped boards; Black titling on front cover and spine; Black topstain
The word Vida appears on the front flyleaf; Foster on the back flyleaf
"The Library." The Dutton Review, no. 1, 1970, pp. 167-182.
Published in New York, New York. Edited by Hal Scharlatt, Robert Brown, and Jerome Charyn.
Featured four chapters: "The Library," "The Automobile Accident," "The 23," and "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come out Tonight?"
These chapters comprised Book 1, titled "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come out Tonight?", of the novel.
This issue also featured works by William Gaddis, Raymond Mungo, C. P. Cavafy, Norma Meacock, Barton Midwood, Rudolph Wurlitzer, Anthony Kerrigan, John Hawkes, Jack Newfield, Stanley Elkin, LeRoi Jones, and Jorge Luis Borges.
Front dust jacket photograph by Edmund Shea of Brautigan and Victoria Domalgoski. The photograph was taken on the front steps of the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. Victoria was a singer and Brautigan wrote liner notes for one of her record albums, "Victoria."
No back dust jacket illustration or photograph.
Uncorrected proofs in tall, 5.5" x 11" yellow printed wrappers
Advance copies noted the 23 March 1971 release date for both the cloth ($5.95) and paper ($1.95) issues.
Black and white
5" x 7"
Rolling Stone, 1971
*** Review appeared in this same issue***
First published in 1971, The Abortion was Brautigan's fourth published novel, and the first with a subtitle: "An Historical Romance 1966."
In November 1965, Brautigan began collecting ideas for what he hoped would be a new novel with a working title of The American Experience by Richard Brautigan. The opening chapter began, "The American experience is an operation illegal in this country: abortion. This is our story. There are thousands like us in America [. . .] in every state, in every city."
In March 1966, Brautigan began developing the story idea in earnest. He decided to call the heroine Vida Kramer, perhaps a painful nod to the small town of Vida, Oregon, along the McKenzie River where Linda Webster had, years earlier, spurned his declaration of love. The library for unpublished manuscripts was based on Brautigan's experience with the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library (see below). The librarian, the narrator of Brautigan's novel, shared details with Brautigan himself: same age, description, history, etc. The imaginary character Vida was based on Janice Meissner, Brautigan's real-life girlfriend. The trip to Mexico was based on Brautigan's research.
Research Trip to Mexico
On 26 March 1966, Brautigan took a one-day research trip to Tijuana, Mexico, a city known then for offering several clinics where one could undergo procedures for terminating unwanted pregnancies. He flew aboard Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) flight 840 from San Francisco to San Diego, California. It was his first airplane flight, and Brautigan made many observations of the experience in his notebook, most found their way into the novel.
In San Diego, Brautigan boarded a Greyhound bus—one left every fifteen minutes—bound for Tijuana. Again, Brautigan made many notes: Tijuana's welcoming arch, the government tourist building, the crowded streets, the Woolworth's department store. He did not, however, visit an abortion clinic. Brautigan's notes during the bus ride and visit in Tijuana refer to "Vida" as if she were traveling with him.
Brautigan returned to San Francisco on PSA flight 631 that evening. He transcribed his notes into twenty-one typewritten pages. Nearly all the details he observed and noted he included in his evolving novel.
From October 1967-April 1968, Robert Park Mills, Brautigan's literary agent at the time, tried to sell The Abortion to a New York publisher. The manuscript was rejected by Harcourt, Brace and World, Simon and Schuster, Viking, Putnam, Harper and Row, Random House, Morrow, Dial, Doubleday, Macmillian, Prentice-Hall and McGraw-Hill. Mills and Brautigan exchanged a number of letters throughout this process. After more than a year Doubleday and Company expressed interest to publish Trout Fishing in America and one other novel, possibly The Abortion. The deal never materialized, however.
The plot of The Abortion follows the narrator, a young man, the librarian, who works and lives in the library, a Brautigan world of lonely pleasure, where he meets a woman. After impregnating the woman, the narrator supports her abortion. In the process he learns how to reenter human society.
Background for the Library
The setting for The Abortion is the Presidio Branch of the San Francisco Public Library, established in 1898 as the sixth San Franciso Public Library branch. It opened at its site in Brautigan's novel, 3150 Sacramento Street, in 1921.
Designed by G. Albert Landsburgh, the architect of the Mission, Chinatown and Sunset branches, as well as the Golden Gate and Warfield theatres, the Italian-Renaissance building was built with $83,228.00 in Carnegie funds. John McLaren, the builder of Golden Gate Park, designed the original landscaping for Presidio Branch's picturesque site.
As Brautigan describes the library, "The library is old in the San Francisco post-earthquake yellow-brick style and is located at 3150 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, California 94115" (The Abortion 22).
"This library rests upon a sloping lot that runs all the way through the block down from Clay to Sacramento Street. We use just a small portion of the lot and the rest of it is overgrown with tall grass and bushes and flowers and wine bottles and lovers' trysts" (33).
"There are some old cement stairs that pour through green and busy establishments down from the Clay Street side and there are ancient electric lamps, Friends of Thomas Edison, mounted on tall metal asparagus stalks" (33-34).
"They are on what was once the second landing of the stairs" (34).
"The back of the library lies almost disappearing in green at the bottom of the stairs" (34).
"There are high arched windows here in the library above the bookshelves and there are two green trees towering into the windows and they spread their branches like paste against the glass" (35).
"I love those trees" (35).
Background for the Abortion
Two writers connect Brautigan with an abortion. Michael McClure, in his essay, "Ninety-one Things about Richard Brautigan" notes Brautigan "apparently had an abortion with some woman" (Lighting the Corners, p. 46)
Karen Finley, in her essay titled "An Affair to Remember," part of the book Drinking With Bukowski: Recollections of the Poet Laureate of Skid Row (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000), recounts an argument with poet Charles Bukowski over an abortion she had with Brautigan. Finley's essay starts by noting her argument with Bukowski and then provides more details about her relationship with Brautigan.
"You went to Mexico when you got pregnant with Richard," he [Bukowski] said hissing.
"Yes, and that was when abortion was illegal! You can't let him go can you? Besides, he's dead! He's dead! I was only a kid." (111)
I met Richard Brautigan at Enrico's cafe on Broadway and Kearny down the street from City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco in 1971. It was 1:30 AM and I had just ended my shift as a cocktail waitress at the infamous strip club The Condor. Enrico the owner of the bistro wanted me for I was underage and looked it. He promised to set me up in my own apartment. He never had me but would rub my knee while I ate my club sandwich and drank my hot cocoa. He would always give the taxi driver ten dollars to take me home.
Enrico introduced me to Richard Brautigan in mid-January and it surprised Enrico when I told the table that I had written a term paper on him the year before as a sophomore in high school. That is when Enrico stopped wanting me, for the turn on was that I knew nothing and now that I revealed myself I would have to pay for my own damn sandwich. I knew Brautigan's poetry by heart and when I spoke Richard became enamored. Richard was drunk, despondent, and disillusioned but I was a devoted fan.
So that is how I met Richard Brautigan. I later met Kathey Acker as my teacher at the San Francisco Art Institute, who introduced me to Gregory Corso, who introduced me to Bukowski at Brautigan's funeral.
The Brautigan issue with Bukowski was that I became pregnant with Richard and had an emotionally, highly charged, dramatic illegal abortion in Mexico. A conflict and an intimacy that Charles grew envious and jealous of as his feelings for me deepened. The fact that I actually read Brautigan and never read Bukowski made matters worse. So now you know. I had an affair with Bukowski and never read any of his goddamn books (112).
Whether McClure's reference speaks to Finley's alleged abortion with Brautigan, or whether it is a reference to a second alleged abortion, is uncertain. Finley's reference to an abortion with Brautigan seems unlikely. First, Finley claims she met Brautigan in mid-January 1971, and therefore the abortion she alleges sharing with Brautigan would have been after this date. Of note: Finley, born in 1956, would have been 15 when she met Brautigan. Finally, Brautigan wrote The Abortion in the mid-1960s, well before Finley claims to have first met him. For these reasons it seems unlikely that an alleged abortion shared with Finley could have had a direct influence on the writing of the novel.
Brautigan's notebooks record his trip to Tijuana, Mexico, where he collected notes that were used in the writing of this novel. But, despite these notes, and the references noted above, no evidence has been found that Brautigan actually participated in an abortion with anyone.
come on in —
read novel —
it's on table
in front room.
I'll be back
After moving into his apartment at 2546 Geary Boulevard, summer 1966, Brautigan asked his neighbor, Lois Weber, wife of photographer Erik Weber to leave a note for Frank Curtin who planned to visit the apartment and read the manuscript of Brautigan's new novel. She pinned a note to Brautigan's front door. When he returned to his apartment, Brautigan found the note still pinned to the front door. He removed it, and typed it verbatim into his manuscript as the dedication, another example of his use of found art in his writing. Brautigan later used the dedication page from the manuscript as a thank you note to Lois Weber.Close
Adams, Phoebe-Lou. "The Abortion." Atlantic, Apr. 1971, p. 104.
The full text of this review reads, "The titular operation is the turning point in an amiable fairy tale, rather in the courtly antique French style, about a dreamy youth and a timid damsel who join forces, correct each other's disabilities, and trot off to school in Berkeley, California, presumably to live happily ever after. Mr. Brautigan's prose is spirited and ingenious, and he defies sentimental convention by depicting a clean, sane, courteous, and efficient illegal abortionist."
Adams, Robert M. "Brautigan Was Here." The New York Review of Books, 22 Apr. 1971, pp. 24-26.
Discusses A Confederate General from Big Sur and the collected Trout Fishing in America, The Pill versus The Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar as foreground for a review of The Abortion. Says there is reason to feel that The Abortion was planned, if not written prior to these other works. "It is a good deal less grotesque and fantastic than its forerunners, a good deal less ambitious as well. It doesn't play as many tricks with the prose or with the surface of things; it is a milder, blander book than either of its immediate predecessors." READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard. THE ABORTION: An Historical Romance 1966." Kirkus Reviews, 1 Jan. 1971, p. 16.
The full text of this review reads, "Where have all the flowers gone? Well, they're quite fresh here and Brautigan's Pied Pipedreams have lured a tremendous number of younger readers in his earlier novels which appeared in paper (Trout Fishing in America; A Confederate General from Big Sur; In Watermelon Sugar). Nothing disturbs the droll, easy, affectionate vision—even the abortion of the title and the fact thereof. For starters, this begins in the library, a library on an old overgrown lot in San Francisco where for years aspirants of all ages leave the books they've written—like Mrs. Adams' Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms. They're the books of "all the losers and dingalings" and sealed up with the records of the librarian. He's been there for three years until Vida comes with her too beautiful body (her "grand container") which is such an incitement. And she becomes pregnant and they go to Tijuana for the abortion and they return to the library, only to be displaced right back into the world (Berkeley). . . .You can't really persuade yourself into thinking this is important, but you can easily be charmed by its gentle, funny, offbeat state of innocence which is its most appealing assumption and best protection."
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." The Booklist, 1 July 1971, p. 894.
The full text of this review reads, "A brief diverting tale set in California is narrated by the unnamed librarian of a depository for books which are brought in by their authors for safekeeping rather than for circulation since no titles ever leave the premises. The plot concerns the shattering effect on the young librarian when the beautiful Vida not only brings in her book but decides to remain with him. When they realize that Vida is pregnant they fly to Tijuana, Mexico where she undergoes an abortion. On one level the novel is a portrayal of contemporary California hedonism, on another it is a profile of a society that takes in deposits from life but gives back no issue to mankind."
Anonymous. "Brautigan, Richard." Choice, Oct. 1971. p. 1010.
The full text of this review reads, "After Trout Fishing in America (1969), A Confederate General from Big Sur (Choice May 1965), and In Watermelon Sugar (1968), this is Brautigan's fourth novel, and it should please his admirers with the same kind of careless grace and American primitivism that his other fiction possesses. The gentle, open, unnamed hero runs a library where manuscripts are turned in, not taken out, by a host of weird, kooky, amusing characters. When his incredibly beautiful girlfriend, Vida, becomes pregnant, they fly to Mexico for an abortion. The book lives on its details: an affection for instant coffee, the light on the tip of an airplane wing, the Woolworth store in Tijuana, the hero's jovial buddy with his eternal teeshirt and booze. Brautigan's world is one-third wish-fulfillment, one-third escape, and one-third gentle longing for a simplicity and detachment that modern America repudiates. Hence, his fans' continuing appetite for his ingratiating books. This one will not disappoint them."
Anonymous. "Paperbacks." Best Sellers, vol. 32, no. 1, Apr. 1972, pp. 22-24.
Reviews several new paperback books. The review of Brautigan's The Abortion appears on page 24.
The full text of this review reads, "Richard Brautigan's 'The Abortion' is about footless fumblers and libraries and abortion (Pocket Books, $1.25; IIa, see 31:78)."
"see 31:78:" A review by Al Phillips (Best Sellers, 15 May 1971, pp. 78-79).
Anonymous. "Precious Little: Richard Brautigan; The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966." The Times Literary Supplement [London], 2 Feb. 1973, p. 113.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 3. Edited by Carolyn Riley. Gale Research Company, 1975, pp. 86-90.
Baker, Roger. "Fiction." The Times [London], 1 Feb. 1973, p. 12.
The full text of this review reads, "And now the American agony retracts into a dream world symbolized in a San Francisco library where anyone can register and deposit their unpublished novel, poems, or play, "the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing". And Brautigan certainly secures some fun (and some sadness) from the titles, subjects, and indeed authors, of the manuscripts brought in. A gentle little book, wittingly written and nicely structured."
Bannon, Barbara A. "The Abortion." Publishers Weekly, 25 Jan. 1971, p. 258.
The full text of this review reads, "Brautigan is, of course, the author of Trout Fishing in America, A Confederate General from Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar, and one of the most authentic spokesman the Age of Aquarius has yet produced. His new short novel is, despite the shock impact of the title, a gentle and loving book with a curiously innocent approach to life. There is, it seems, a strange public library somewhere in California. It never lends books, it only receives them; and at any hour of the day or night people are free to turn up and deposit copies of books they have written and put together themselves. (One example title is Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms.) The librarian and his girl Vida live and love there until Vida gets pregnant and they go off to Tia Juana for an abortion. The abortion sequence is not so much harrowing as haunting and, like all of this very simple tale, it is in its own way part of a parable for our time. Mr. Brautigan takes the life style of today's young people and gives it an imaginative shake-up that cuts right across the generation gap."
Blakeston, Oswell. "Richard Brautigan." Books & Bookmen, Mar. 1973, p. 76.
"[W]hat happened suddenly to Mr. B's originality? Yet however much one grieves for the collapse of invention, I think the book is still worth your attention for the lovely whacky wayout library operation." READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Butwin, Joseph. "The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966." Saturday Review, 12 June 1971, pp. 52, 67.
Says Brautigan's work reflects current questions, trends, and problems in American culture. The manner in which Brautigan deals with these makes him simultaneously a myth-maker and a myth. READ this review.
Cabibbo, Paola. "The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 di Richard Brautigan, Ovuero l'Aborto dell'Eroe." Sigfrido nel Nuovo Mondo: Studi sulla Narrativa D'iniziazione. Edited by Paola Cabibbo. Goliardica 1983, pp. 206-216.
Review from an Italian perspective.
Clark, William Bedford. "Abortion and the Missing Moral Center: Two Case Histories from the Post-Modern Novel." Xavier Review, vol. 4, no. 1-2, 1984, pp. 70-75.
Examines The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth and The Abortion by Brautigan as examples of the literary consequences of the "radical shift in values" resulting from 1973 Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision to lift "virtually all legal restraints on abortion." READ this review.
Coats, Reed. "Brautigan, Richard." Library Journal, July 1971, pp. 2375-2376.
The full text of this review reads, "Through word plays—juxtapositions and unusual combinations—we have a work that is beautifully and typically Brautiganesque, that takes readers on a pleasantly humorous journey. In a special library—i.e., one which accepts only original works and acts as a storehouse merely to satisfy the egos of the donors—the narrator and chief librarian (the only employee) meets, likes, and impregnates a beautiful girl who believes she is a prisoner of the wrong body. A trip to Tijuana, arranged with the aid of a drunk cave-dwelling friend, results in the necessary abortion; upon returning home, our hero finds his job usurped by another fringe lunatic. But plot, even a crazy one, is essentially unessential (see Trout Fishing in America, 1969) as one enjoys Brautigan, if at all, for style rather than structure. For uninitiated freaks (and mature young adults) a treat is in store; for his fans this is once again satisfying fare. (see Library Journal May 15 p.1726)."
Dorsi, Latissimus [sic]. "Abortion Everywhere." Georgia Straight [Vancouver, BC, Canada], vol. 5, no. 190, 6-10 Aug. 1971, p. 16.
The full text of this review reads, "Time Magazine likes Brautigan, he's gentle, humorous, all the things drop outs or whatever you call 'em should be, posing no real threat to the congealed mass of society. So what! Being gentle and humorous can be quite useful even today. His use of images is really tricky, who ever heard of hair being called bat lighting or buffalow [sic] heavy. Just minor enticements to get you to acquire a copy of this book and support Brautiagn in his old age. What's it about? A library where people bring their books, books that are titled Bacon Death and look like greasy pounds of bacon, 90 page leather books on Leather Clothes and the History of Man, The Culinary Dostoevski, Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms, etc. In fact, books that only you or I could write, people who never even took courses from Famous Writers Correspondence Schools. Books we write in our heads while lying half-consciously asleep or awake (take your pick) in bed in the morning, or while working (aargh!) or while taking a shit (ah!). The Abortion is also about being in love (is there such a thing anymore) and disposing of the creations that you occur—i.e. as in foetus hence the title. You also get a summary description of old fun city itself, Tijuana. All in 226 pages of easy to read black print on white paper. Cheap for the value."
Hackenberry, Charles. "Romance and Parody in Brautigan's 'The Abortion'." Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, vol. 23, no. 2, Winter 1982, pp. 24-36.
Discusses the elements of romance and parody in Brautigan's longer works of fiction, critiques problems concerning the genre of Brautigan's works, examines the relevance of the theories of Northrop Frye to the explication of the romance qualities of Brautigan's writing, and explores the relationship between parodic and romantic elements in Brautigan's writing. Says, "The greatest strength of [The Abortion] is that it is not just parody. The work is also a testimony to the enduring truth of literary forms, however incomplete and imperfect—their power to shape human behavior and render psychological reality in dream-like sketches." READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 42. Edited by Daniel G. Marowski and Roger Matuz. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 48-66.
Hill, Susan. "Americas." The Listener [London], vol. 89, no. 2287, 25 Jan. 1973, p. 124.
Reviews The Western Coast by Paula Fox, Don't Point that Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Rehearsal by Terence Brady, and The Abortion by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "Richard Brautigan is an American campus cult-hero, like Borges, Hesse and Tolkien, and he can no more help it than they can. Trout Fishing in America was a marvellous, original book. But a third-year Creative Writing student turning in The Abortion as an exercise would do well to rate C minus. The hero works where he lives, in a library—bolt-hole, symbol, storehouse for unpublished books brought in by their authors. (Pale shades of Borges.) His girl Vida (ravishingly beautiful face, Playmate-of-the-Month figure) gets pregnant: they go to Tijuana for an abortion, return to find the librarian's desk usurped, and take off for Berkeley where our hero becomes, he says, A Hero. Very likely. A total absence of good writing, perceptive description or insights into human purpose, though there's plenty of non-philosophy. A charismatic name doesn't make up for lack of literary quality. Being a cult-hero hasn't done Mr. Brautigan's work much good."
Hughes, Catherine. "The Abortion." America, 12 June 1971, pp. 616-617.
The full text of this review reads, "A few years ago, Richard Brautigan wrote a book called Trout Fishing in America; it was, title notwithstanding, a novel. Then he wrote two more, called A Confederate General from Big Sur and In Watermelon Sugar. Somewhere along the way, he became something of a cult hero, a sort of seventies [J. D.] Salinger.
"The Abortion—which, in fact, does feature an abortion, though it's almost incidental—will probably cement his standing, if not make it much easier to understand. Its hero is 31 and the librarian in a San Francisco library for "the unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing." Or, to put it another way, for unpublishable manuscripts. Then one day Vida comes along with her book, which has to do with her own voluptuous body, which makes everyone, especially Vida, uncomfortable. She settles in the hero's pad in the back of the library, bakes chocolate cookies and eventually becomes pregnant. Most of the rest of the book is devoted to a trip to Tijuana and the abortion she has there.
"Contrary to what that may suggest, Brautigan writes with such style and insouciance that it all winds up surprisingly disarming, even engaging. Off on the edges somewhere there's s nice little allegory, but it never gets in the way of The Abortion being an almost pleasant little book."
Keele, A. F. "Ethics in Embryo-Abortion and the Problem of Morality in Post-War German Literature." Germanic Review, vol. 51, no. 3, 1976, pp. 229-241.
Provides examples from and critiques of work by a number of post-war era German authors who consider abortion a serious subject. Says, "When Richard Brautigan dedicates his "historical romance": The Abortion (1966) with a note reading: "Frank: Come on in—read novel—it's on table in front room. I'll be back in about two hours. Richard," he seems to overestimate his work's profundity and/or fascination by about an hour. (Random sample: "If you get hung up on everybody else's hangups, then the whole world's going to be nothing more than one huge gallows. We kissed.") But there are writers for whom the subject of abortion represents a great deal more than a fad, or the obligatory happy ending to a soap-opera seduction sotry; and its not an accident that many of these authors are Germans, of the post-war era. (229)"
Kimball, George. "Books & People." The Phoenix, 25 May 1971, p. 14.
Koloze, Jeff. "Richard Brautigan's The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971)." An Ethical Analysis of the Portrayal of Abortion in American Fiction: Dreiser, Hemingway, Faulkner, Dos Passos, Brautigan, and Irving. Edwin Mellen Press, 2005, pp. 181-207.
Part of the Mellon Press Studies in American Literature series. Chapter 7 deals with Brautigan's The Abortion. The publisher's promotional blurb reads, "Religiously-based ethical aspects of the abortion issue have not been addressed in literary criticism; thus, determining the ethical content of twentieth-century American fiction concerning abortion will assist students of literature and those interested in this controversial issue. Specifically, the author identifies six ethical aspects of the abortion issue discussed in Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. The first ethical aspect concerns the lex talionis passage in Exodus. Second, the concepts of "health" and "life" are considered. The study then examines whether the unborn child can be viewed as an aggressor against his or her mother. Determining whether the unborn child possesses "potential" or "actual" life constitutes the fourth ethical aspect, followed by the closely related categories of "formed" and "unformed" fetuses. The last ethical aspect concerns ensoulment. The study conducts close readings of abortion passages in canonical works by Dreiser, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, Brautigan, and Irving. Incorporating biographical criticism and other tools of literary research, the author concludes that canonical works do not address these ethical aspects. Finally, the study addresses the six ethical aspects in other twentieth-century non-canonical works."
Kroll, Stephen. "Very Natural and No Childbirth." Washington Post Book World, 28 Mar. 1971, p. 3.
The full text of this review reads, "The patterns of our lives and the way things just happen to happen. The search for self. Gentle laughter. The likelihood of unlikely romance. The absurdities of human beings. All these things are a part of The Abortion, but because Brautigan is inimitably Brautigan, it all comes out very different from anyone else.
"Trout Fishing in America Brautigan's best known novel, was a superbly comic collection of vignettes in search of America, a collection featuring its elusive and ubiquitous non sequitur title. Trout Fishing in America was a person, an object, a national symbol, a corpse, God, an epithet, a catch-phrase, a costume, a hotel—in short, whatever you wanted it to be. And with his perfect comic timing and disarmingly ingenuous style, reality for Richard Brautigan can be whatever he wants it to be.
"Which explains the impish pleasure of The Abortion. Like Trout Fishing in America, it is broken up into many brief chapters—who but Brautigan (and Vonnegut) could divide a seduction into four parts and get away with it?—but unlike Trout Fishing in America, the chapters are more or less consecutive. As disarming as ever, but touched this time by the lyrical—the "historical romance" of the subtitle is not entirely a put-on or a put-down—they tell of a timid, nameless, thirty-one-year-old librarian and his coming to terms with himself after "having traveled the story of California" and taken his gorgeous girlfriend Vida to Tijuana for the "gentle necessity" of an abortion. But because this is Brautigan, the library is not just a library, it's a place where people bring their own unwanted manuscripts—Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms, My Dog, The Need for Legalized Abortion—and the unpaid librarian must be there twenty-four hours a day "to make the person and the book feel wanted." Vida herself makes her first appearance with a book about her overdeveloped body and the horrors of physical beauty (and stays).
"Along the way to the abortion there are the casually arresting truths, the unexpectedly bizarre put-downs, the acute comic observations. But the trouble with Brautigan, like the trouble with much of Vonnegut, is that once you've read the book, it seems of little consequence. And in his own eccentric way Brautigan might well agree. The dedication to The Abortion reads: 'Frank:/come on in-/read novel-/it's on table/in front room./I'll be back/in about/2-hours./Richard.' But I'll tell you something, Frank. It's a refreshing, probing two hours' worth."
Kušnír, Jaroslav. "Brautigan's Parody in 'The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966'." European British and American Studies at the Turn of the Millenium. Institute of English Philology Faculty of Arts University of Ostravia, 185, 1999, pp. 49-55.
Kušnír is a faculty member at the University of Prešov, Slovakia. READ this review.
Feedback from Jaroslav Kušnír
"I highly value your bibliographical work on Brautigan because I still think he is quite a neglected author in the USA."
— Jaroslav Kušnír. Email to John F. Barber, 14 May 2008.
Lahr, Anthea. "Bed and Books." National Observer, 31 May 1971, pp. 18-19.
The full text of this review reads, "The Abortion is a male fantasy—a beautiful girl, a pregnancy, and an abortion that is clean, painless, and easy. Vida, the heroine, is the epitome of a sex object: "I can't go anywhere without promoting whistles, grunts, howls, minor and major obscenities, and every man I meet wants to go to bed instantly with me. I have the wrong body."
But for novelist Richard Brautigan's hero, she has the right body, and he lives with her in bliss. He is a librarian, but he works in no ordinary library; "nobody every checks [the books] out and nobody ever comes here to read them." It is a home for unwanted books, lovingly presided over by the young man.
Here is the real poignancy of The Abortion: Mr. Brautigan, as the author of an unpublished book of short stories, understands the profound sadness and loneliness of being a writer with the nagging suspicion that nobody reads you. The Library Contents Ledger kept by his young hero is an indication, however, small, that someone cares.
Significantly, one of the books brought in is Moose, by Richard Brautigan. "The author was tall and blond and had a long yellow mustache that gave him an anachronistic appearance."
Mr. Brautigan is more at ease writing about books and the library, however, than he is with emotions and character. The librarian is a mere shadow, defined by his relationship to his books. Vida is a body who talks. She comes to live at the library and immediately gets pregnant; but as with everything in this book, her abortion goes smoothly and all ends well.
The simple story is told with just enough wit and irony to keep the reader interested, but the writing too often veers toward pretentiousness ("an airplane of books, flying through the pages of eternity"). Like its central act, this book is fast and competent, with nothing left afterwards.
Langlois, Jim. "Brautigan, Richard." Library Journal, 15 May 1971, p. 1726.
Calls The Abortion an invigorating failure. The full text of this review reads, "This time around, Brautigan's central metaphor is a library, strange and dreamlike, where books are not read at all. Instead authors are welcomed warmly, register their works, and place them wherever they wish on the library's shelves. As he has successfully done with his Jungian dream world of statues and open graves in In Watermelon Sugar and with his sprawling transformation of the whole country in Trout Fishing in America, Brautigan again declares a war of gentle violence waged by the imagination on the emptiness of contemporary life.
"The library works its surprises on our sensibilities, but Brautigan virtually abandons his metaphor in the last two-thirds of the book. An incredibly beautiful girl gives her book to the library and herself to the librarian. The abortion that results leads to a trail of blank book pages, the girl "unconscious with her stomach vacant like a chalkboard, and the librarian's loss of his library. Brautigan's vision of life and imagination aborted is painfully unwavering, but the style of this bulk of the book shifts from the sustained rhythm of dreams in the library to a fading realism that is often no more than warmed-over Hemingway. Without its life-giving metaphor The Abortion fails. But even Brautigan's failures are invigorating. Like Donald Barthelme and others he is carving out a new syntax, his own geography of the imagination. His richness brings new life to the ill-used concept of romanticism, overshadowing the posturings of Erich Segal, and accounting for Brautigan's large and deserved following among the young."
Lask, Thomas. "Move Over, Mr. Tolstoy." The New York Times, 30 Mar. 1971, p. 33.
Says, "The Abortion is not so great a failure, but it is a greater disappointment. Mr. Brautigan has let a good idea wither for lack of nourishment. READ this review.
Locklin, Gerald. "Taking A Look at the Recently Published Books." Independent [Long Beach, CA], 1 June 1971, p. 14.
The full text of this review reads, "As Beacon Street's foremost literary critic once remarked, 'It's a good book, not a great book.'
"The Confederate General from Big Sur struck me as a great book, a thoroughly contemporary work of intellectual stylistic, and technical ingenuity. Any of us who try to write fiction either have or could learn a great deal from that novel. Trout Fishing in America seemed just a little far out, i.e., without consequence; and In Watermelon Sugar seemed a little too far in, i.e., medieval-hippie.
"That's the danger with Brautigan's writing: he seems to be speaking to a slightly more sophisticated audience than are Rod McKuen and Erich Segal, but he occasionally plummets into the saccharine marshlands of his sentimental and commercial inferiors.
The Abortion tells a mildly interesting love story involving a Tijuana abortion. The material would probably have made a nice short story. A good deal of time is devoted to a library to which anyone can bring the book that he has written. That strikes me as a soft conceit. It, in fact, epitomizes everything I like about Brautigan's work and his audience at their worst, even as I remain convinced that, at their best, they represent a step forward in our literary and social evolution.
I do not mean to denigrate Brautigan's talents. I only wish I could write as well. He continues to display his exceptional aptitude for metaphors of alternately, the oblique and the commonplace: 'It is not a large bell but it travels intimately along a small silver path that knows the map to our hearing.' 'I stood here like Lot's wife on one of her bad days.' 'I was shocked at losing my library and surprised at being inside a real house again. Both feelings were passing like ships in the night.'
"I'd like to think that this is a relatively early work of the author, only now emerging into print. The girl on the cover, however, with her booted, parted legs, is really something else. A scene from a neo-Grecian urn, even if you're not a leather freak. I'm not sure what that has to do with the price of anything, but she's there and, as Brautigan would say, it's nice that she is.
Major, Clarence. "Open Letters." American Poetry Review, vol. 4, no. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1975, p. 29.
Reviews The Fan Man by William Kotzwinkle, Quake and Flats by Rudolph Wurlitzer, and The Abortion by Brautigan in the form of a letter to a friend. Mentions Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster in connection with Wurlitzer's Quake. Says, of Brautigan's The Abortion, "The way I see it, this book is making fun of the conventional novel, laughing out one side of its mouth at the routines expected of novels. It seems to be a story about innner solitude and outward needs."
Also mentions Brautigan's The Hawkline Monster in connection with Wurlitzer's Quake saying, "Like Brautigan, in his novel The Hawkline Monster, Wurlitzer, attempts to ram a sharp set of horns directly through the flesh of a literary notion of capturing Experience as We Know It. While doing this, Brautigan, like Kotzwinkle, laughs a lot. Wurlitzer has no sense of humor that is allowed expression." READ this review.
Malley, Terence. Richard Brautigan. Warner, 1972.
First printing October 1972. The first critical survey of Brautigan's work through 1971. Chapter 3, "A Hero for Our Times," deals with The Abortion. One of several reference books focusing on Brautigan.
Peterson, Clarence. "More Than Meets the Eye." Chicago Tribune Book World, 30 May 1971, p. 9.
The full text of this review reads, "There is not much to Richard Brautigan's The Abortion (Simon & Schuster, $1.95), but what there is is a whimsical delight which appears to have been written in no more time than it takes to read it. It is about a young recluse who works in a San Francisco library for unpublishable books, (The Stereo and God, Your Clothes Are Dead, Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms) and a girl who brings in a book about her beautiful body, in which, she is uncomfortable. Soon she is comfortable in the back room with the hero, and a bit later she is pregnant, so the two of them make a pleasant journey to Tijuana for an abortion and return without incident, to find that someone else has taken charge of the library, but that's all right because she had mentioned that he'd be "Great at Berkeley," so they go there and he is and, one imagines, they live happily ever after."
Phillips, Al. "Brautigan, Richard." Best Sellers, 15 May 1971, pp. 78-79.
Novel also mentioned in an anonymous review (Best Sellers, vol. 32, no. 1, April 1972, p. 24). The full text of this review reads, "A far-out library for far-out folks with a side trip to Tijuana to receive an abortion. That is the way to review "The Abortion" in capsule form. However, for those who would like to know just a bit more about how to live and love in a library containing volumes of unpublished writings: you have been warned.
The librarian and Vida live a life of free love and in their working hours graciously accept books written by people who know that there is not even a remote chance of their offerings being published. These here folk just have an urge to write. On page 71, Vida discovers that she is pregnant and that an abortion is the only answer. The librarian agrees and immediately calls upon his old friend Foster for financial help (there is no salary connected with the library job). The trip to Tijuana is arranged and, before we realize it, we find these two lovebirds deep in the throes of an interview with a Dr. Garcia. Dr. Garcia is a man showing complete confidence in his specialized field. There is no pain, no worry, and all that is required is a complete feeling of relaxation. Dr. Garcia is an old pro at this sort of thing and he just doesn't make mistakes. His waiting room is occupied by a great many mistakes of all ages and social standing and within a short space of time the good doctor will deliver to them his great emancipation address—no pain, no worry, just relax. During the interview Dr. Garcia. drops his professional pose for a short period of time and puts on his business hat. It seems that the figure of two hundred dollars starts ringing a bell and he quickly resumes the old country doctor routine and Vida will be prepared for whatever does happen to someone having an abortion.
May I suggest that before reading "The Abortion" you go out and buy a string of beads, a buckskin jacket, open-toed sandals and refrain from bathing for at least a week. You will then be ready to read "The Abortion." No pain, no worry, and above all, relax.
Pritchard, William H. "Stranger Than Truth." The Hudson Review, vol. 24, no. 2, Summer 1971, pp. 355-368.
The full text of this review reads, "I was also pleased by the throwaway quality of many lines in Richard Brautigan's latest historical romance. First of all you get a frontispiece with real people in it, good-looking too, then a friendly dedication and a "Book I" entitled "Buffalo Girls, Won't You Come Out Tonight?" This is all before the abortion part starts, and our hero is alone, minding the library where various authors come and present a book they've written, then steal away into the night. Book like this: "MY TRIKE, by Chuck. The author was five years old..."; or "LOVE ALWAYS BEAUTIFUL, by Charles Green. The author was about fifty years old and said he had been trying to find a publisher for his book since he was seventeen years old . . . 'It has been rejected 459 times and now I a man old man'"; or "SAM SAM SAM, by Patricia Evens Summers. 'It's a book of literary essays,' she said. 'I've always admired Alfred Kazin and Edmund Wilson... She was a woman in her late fifties who looked a good deal like Edmund Wilson"; or "HE KISSED ALL NIGHT, by Susan Margar. . . You had to look twice to see if she had any lips on her face. It was a surprise to find her mouth almost totally hidden beneath her nose. 'It's about kissing,' she said." Brautigan and Linda Grace Hoyer would make a strange pair, yet I felt I knew where I was in relation to each writer, and at least had no fear of being bludgeoned to death by overactive prose."
Redekop, Corey. The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966. Shelf Monkey, 15 July 2009.
A review of Brautigan's The Abortion by Redekop, written as part of his ongoing blog, "Shelf Monkey."
Sampson, Sally. "Hang-Ups." New Statesman, 2 Feb. 1973, p. 169.
Reviews The Western Coast by Paula Fox, The Fourth Angel by John Rechy, The Cousins by Pauline Neville, and The Abortion by Brautigan. The full text of this review reads, "Brautigan, whose bewhiskered figure adorns the cover of his book, has a large following among the young; and one can see why. His books read more like poems or folk songs than novels; they combine an old-fashioned (and fashionable) nostalgia for the "old" America with a zany, knowing humour which suggests that the author is much more sophisticated than he looks. The Abortion is an allegory about lost innocence. Its central symbol is a crumbling library in San Francisco which specialises in unpublishable manuscripts with titles like The Egg Laid Twice or Love Always Beautiful (rejected 459 times)—the "unwanted, the lyrical and haunted volumes of American writing." The librarian, a gentle hermit, hasn't been outside the building for years, when the beautiful Vida bursts in on his quiet routine. Vida hates her Playboy curves, but the librarian soon cures her of her hang-up. Their low-key idyll is shattered when she gets pregnant and they have to fly to Tijuana for an abortion. After going through the pipeline at Dr. Garcia's surgery, they return home to find that the librarian has been ousted from his job. Vida is delighted, and they move to Berkeley to do their own thing like everybody else. Amusing as they are, I must confess to finding Brautigan's parables a bit cloying; certainly a little of his faux-naïf style goes a long way, and it can degenerate into self-parody ("Vida had taught me to smell coffee. That was the way she made it"). However, his jokes are usually so good that one can enjoy the books for laughs without worrying too much about the message."
Skow, John. "Cookie Baking in America." Time, 5 Apr. 1971, pp. 94-95.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, vol. 3. Edited by Carolyn Riley. Gale Research Company, 1975. pp. 86-90.
Smith, Mason. "Pink and Fading, in Watermelon Ink: The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966" The New York Times Book Review, 28 Mar. 1971, Sec. 7, pp. 4, 26.
Included a photograph of Brautigan and a full page advertisement for the novel on page 11. READ this review.
Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Edited by Dedria Bryfonski. Gale Research Company, 1980, pp. 57-74.
Sonny [sic]. "Books." Guerrilla [renamed Toronto Free Press, Toronto, Canada], June 1971, p. 19.
Sprug, Joseph W. "Professionally Speaking." Catholic Library World, Apr. 1972, pp. 474-477.
Recommends several books for high school and university libraries, but not The Abortion by Brautigan. The full text of this review reads, "A postcript: On the enthusiastic recommendation of a personally-highly-regarded youth of semi-hippie persuasion I have read the "new kind of librarian" novel, The Abortion by Richard Brautigan. I regret to indecently expose my generation gap (and split an infinitive in the process) by saying that I found this frothy fiction to be a waste of time to read, a waste of money to pay for, and a waste of space on the library shelf. It might have some negative value as an exercise in emptiness. (477)"
Thwaite, Anthony. "Girl Who Stayed Behind." Observer [London], 4 Feb. 1973, p. 36.
Reviews Summer in Prague by Zdena Salivarova, Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry by B. S. Johnson, and The Abortion by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "Charm, not in buckets but in dainty ladles, is Richard Brautigan's stock in trade. It's the kind of charm that goes with being whimsical, inconsequential, a bit goofy and vulnerable, hospitable to the wisecrack but not waiting too long for the laughs: it hasn't the hard edge of cruelty of a lot of American humour, but it does have something to do with the tall story—Pecos Pete, Johnny Appleseed, and that sort of folksy fabrication. A little goes a long way, and The Abortion begins to pall quite quickly. The nameless librarian, who sits all day and night in a library which is a repository solely of unpublishable books brought in by their authors, is a gentle innocent somnambulising his way through life, until Vida ("incredibly delicate face . . . very large fully realised breasts and an incredibly tiny waist") arrives on the scene. the result is the abortion, which involves a slow-motion journey to and from Mexico. Brautigan gives even this bleak operation a measure of guileless charm. But there isn't much else to the book (in the old days one would have written of its "gossamer-thin delicacies"), and I still can't fathom why Richard Brautigan has become a part of the cult-pantheon of American youth. He seems harmless but soft."
Waugh, Auberon. "Unwanted Books—in Fiction and Fact." The Spectator [London], no. 7544, 27 Jan. 1973, pp. 108-109.
Reviews Prophecy and the Parasites by John Symonds, Car by Harry Crews, and the Jonathan Cape edition of The Abortion by Brautigan. READ this review.
West, Celeste. "These Are Book Reviews." Synergy [San Francisco Public Library], vol. 32, Mar. 1991, pp. 40.
A review for librarians working in the San Francisco Public Library System. Full text of this review reads, "This novel is about the romantic possibilities of a public library in California. It is called THE ABORTION: An Historical Romance of 1966 [sic], written by Richard Brautigan and published by Simon and Schuster in 1970 for $5.95, or $1.95. or tax unfree for a library card.
Abortion is about libraries as a poet would write about libraries, and so, of course, is not about libraries at all. But it is about "librarianship." The librarian and his super-beautiful (gasp) Vida live and love in the library, which holds books the authors themselves bring in anytime and shelve anywhere. Growing Flowers by Candlelight in Hotel Rooms, Your Clothes are Dead, and The Egg Laid Twice are typical accessions.
Abortion is also about the librarian's three abortions in Tijuana while waiting for Vida's—what happens when "The Pill versus The Springhill Mining Disaster" can't be swallowed—and about freeways, airports, Woolworths and other strange things.
Brautigan's library at 3150 Sacramento Street in San Francisco is now part of the San Francisco Public Library System. I made an abortive attempt to present my lively study, A Rugby Player's Guide to Rock Crystals, but the policy now is that library outreach programs come from within. However, present librarian Kay Roberts (who has been mistaken for Vida, but with golden hair) speculates about an authors-own-corner. What if Alicia Bay Laurel came in with her next homemade book?
Wiggen, Maurice. "Aspects of Americans." The Sunday Times [London], 28 Jan. 1973, p. 39.
Reviews Prophecy and the Parasites by John Symonds, The Western Coast by Paula Fox, Captains and Kings by Taylor Caldwell, The Clock Winder by Anne Tyler, Gentlemen Prefer Slaves by Lucille Kallen, A Transatlantic Tunnel. Hurrah! by Harry Harrison, and The Abortion by Brautigan.
Says, of Brautigan, "I find myself quoted, with brazen selective distortions on the jacket of Richard Brautigan's The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (Cape £1.95). Cape should be ashamed. They won't get the same chance again. This present book merely shows that the helpful advice offered on the last occasion has been ignored, with foreseeable results. Mr. Brautigan, for lack of discipline, either self-imposed or otherwise, is falling away even farther from his early promise. Freshness becomes a trick of attitudinising, the taut directness of which he is capable becomes lost in a fanciful mess of pretentious whimsy."
Yardley, Jonathan. "Still Loving." The New Republic, 20 Mar. 1971, pp. 24-25.
Connects Brautigan with the radical politics associated with the counterculture movement. READ this review.